About one month after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, The 19th reached out to all 143 women in the 117th Congress to ask about their experiences on January 6. Twenty-three shared their points of view from that day. We are also publishing each lawmaker’s full account of that day. Here is what Rep. Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
Starting the day, we were on a Democratic caucus Zoom meeting at 9 a.m. talking about the events of the day and the constitutional proceedings. The question came up about our security. It had come up before, and we were reassured that there was security in place: Capitol Police and the National Guard. We heard the [former] president’s speech, and we were aware that there would be protesters.
I had expected to stay in my apartment that day and not go to the Capitol until the afternoon. But then I received word that Speaker Pelosi had invited me to come to the gallery. That was a great honor, and I made the decision to go and watch the whole constitutional ceremony. So I made an arrangement for my chief of staff to pick me up, but he did not show — which was unusual.
So I started walking toward the Capitol on New Jersey Ave. When I got to the corner, there was a big police commotion. At the next corner, there was a big commotion as well: more police and more police cars. [My chief of staff] hadn’t been able to drive out of the parking garage because of a police disturbance. We realized there was a bomb scare, and later that was confirmed: There was a bomb in the RNC building.
We weren’t able to get to the parking garage. I was going to take the tunnel to the Capitol, but police were running toward us saying: “Get back! Get back!” He chased us, and we had to run around the corner of Cannon to the other entrance.
But even at that point, I didn’t think it was particularly unusual. We had bomb scares from time to time.
I was walking up, and I asked [my chief of staff] to take a video of me talking about the First Amendment. It’s not unusual for people to bring their suggestions and grievances. People were screaming by us on the sidewalk. In any event, I entered Cannon through the New Jersey Ave. entrance. I went through the tunnel and took the elevator to the East Gallery, where I settled into my chair when the speaker was gaveling in the proceedings.
About 200 members were sitting in the East Gallery. I was chatting with my colleagues but took a photo: I had my Constitution and glasses and a peace sign. I was texting it to family and friends, so honored to participate in the peaceful transfer of power.
So we got to Arizona, and there was an objection at about 1:30 p.m. As the joint session was dissolved and the vice president and senators left the chamber, I realized “Wow, we’re going to be here a long time.” I decided to take a break, find a ladies room, and I was directed to a place I’d never been. I walked down a hallway, and there were reporters sitting on the floor typing stories and photographers. I made a phone call around 1:55 p.m., and then a female reporter told me that the crowd was really growing outside. We looked out a window, but I couldn’t see down the Mall. Then a man came through the press gallery and said, “This is not for attribution, but we are in a lockdown.”
We were in a shelter-in-place order, meaning no one can leave this place. What was funny was I turned to leave to go back to the gallery, and he said, “Lady, that means you.” I turned around to show my member pin, and I said I was going to hustle over to the gallery to shelter there.
That’s when I knew that something was out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, I had already seen the evacuation order on our phones for Cannon because of that bomb threat, but I knew there was a problem already. This added to the anxiety.
We had a female officer with us in the East Gallery. She was locking the door right behind me. They were locking the doors on the floor of the House and two of my colleagues, Jason Crow and Tom Malinowski, got up and helped the officers lock all of the doors on the third floor. At that point, we started getting updates from the Capitol Police down on the floor, and these happened periodically for the next 45 minutes or half hour. In the first one — people were also giving me information off our phones, some following on Twitter — the officer on the floor first told us that Vice President Pence got pulled from the Senate, which is of course extremely unusual.
Moments after that, Speaker Pelosi got pulled off the dais by her security detail, along with [Rep. Steny Hoyer] and [Rep. Jim Clyburn], and that is right around 2:14 p.m. At 2:09 p.m., we had gotten a text message that all buildings were under a security threat. And it said to stay away from exterior windows and doors.
When they pulled Speaker Pelosi, it was at that moment that I remember thinking: “This is different than anything I’ve experienced in the eight years I’ve been here.”
Police started yelling: “Get down! Get down! Hide behind chairs and desks!” And I went down and hid behind the railing of the gallery and then started hearing the rioters. The officer announced that they’ve gone up the stairs; they’ve breached the Capitol. I had never heard that. How did that happen?
A few minutes later, he announced that they’re coming through the rotunda, not far from where we are. We all started to feel that our lives were at risk.
They started to evacuate members of the House floor through the Speaker’s Lobby. We were watching that from above. They were hustling 100 people out the two doors, and then one of my colleagues yelled from the gallery: “What about us?” It was as though they had forgotten us out there.
An officer said tear gas has been used. We didn’t know if it was by police or rioters, but he said we had to grab gas masks with oxygen hoods under the chairs. There was this crazy part where we couldn’t open the dang things, frantically thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to die because I can’t open this thing.” We couldn’t open them, ripping it with our teeth. Finally we got those out and the police are yelling, “Get down! Get down!”
Then we started hearing the pounding on the north main door of the floor — what the president walks through for the State of the Union. Pounding, pounding, flurry of activity. I realized that the House could be breached. The minimal police presence was insufficient to secure the chamber.
When a group of men pushed couches in front of the door and drew their guns, this was the scariest moment for me. What if the first people through that door have automatic weapons and they’re looking for members of Congress? I grabbed Rep. Sara Jacobs and said, “We’ve got to get around this corner and duck down behind the railing of the gallery to make sure we are out of the line of fire.” Shortly after that, a policeman finally said, “Go, go, go, we’ve got to get you out of here.” He told us to put the gas masks on and then run, but keep down to go underneath these railings all along the full length of the Capitol. And that’s when that photo was taken of me in the blue coat, clutching my purse.
There was a policeman who grabbed Jacobs, me, [Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard] and two guys and said he was going to get us into the elevator. We got to an elevator, and I was having kind of a panic attack and couldn’t breathe. I said, “What if the elevator doors open and we got shot?” An officer stood in front of the doors and assured me, “Ma’am, I am here to protect you.”
We were running in the Rayburn tunnel, and police were running toward us with guns drawn. We jumped out of the way. At 2:44 p.m. my son called me, and that was the same minute that the woman was shot. It was moments, not minutes.
There was a group behind me that was worse off because they got pinned down longer in the gallery. Right after we got into the elevator, the mob got to the third floor and filled the hallway, so they were stuck. That’s when the photo was taken of [Rep. Susan Wild] laying on the ground with Jason Crow. They had to stay another eight minutes in the gallery. They heard the gunshot and finally the police got reinforcements sufficient enough for them to escape.
I thought that we were all going to die. I thought that it would be a mass casualty incident. If that officer had not shot Ashli Babbitt — if you look at the frenzy of that crowd — I believe they would have broken into the House floor or the gallery.
I am a sexual assault survivor, and when I worked on Capitol Hill 40 years ago, I had an incident where I was assaulted and mugged. I had not experienced this PTSD like I have over the last month. I’m feeling better, but I had to be really focused on my recovery. There’s been good support with employee assistance, and we’ve stayed in touch, the Gallery Group — not a club you want to be a member of.
There’s a lot of trauma that people are dealing with. We have Zoom meetings together, talk through things on the phone and look out for each other. My family and friends have been super supportive.
It’s been very challenging, and it’s compounded when we went to the secure location where we were held for five hours. Republican colleagues refused to wear masks. It became a super spreader event, and that was devastating. The threat from within and the threat from without. It was double jeopardy that day. Luckily, we went back to the chamber and took the votes. And at 3:30 a.m. when we left, I was so proud of my colleagues. Democracy prevailed. It was so important for our country and history. It continues to be very difficult working with our colleagues though and reestablishing trust.